Why the Flash Based Virtual Classroom is a preview of the future

Education & Technology

Ever since Apple made it clear that they would not support Flash on their wildly popular iOS devices, we’ve been hearing about the death of Flash. It even seemed as though Adobe put a nail in Flash’s coffin when they dropped development on mobile flash late last year. Earlier this week, André Klein wrote a thoughtful (as usual) and comprehensive piece called “Why The Flash Based Virtual Classroom Is A Relic Of The Past.

So what gives? I’m writing and teaching for a company whose flagship product is just such a Flash-based virtual classroom. I’m starting my first course using WizIQ tonight with Angela Maiers and Richard Byrne. Am I foolishly putting my faith in a dying platform?

I don’t think so. Adobe has made it clear that they don’t consider Flash dead and development of desktop Flash and Flash Media server are ongoing and very active. Adobe, in fact, envisions Flash as a next-generation web-based gaming and application platform. This month’s release of Adobe Creative Suite 6 includes a substantial update to Flash Professional. And on the web, Flash continues to play a vital role in delivering rich internet applications whose functionality just can’t be matched yet by HTML5.

Instead of being relics, I consider Flash-based virtual classrooms to be harbingers of what great interactive learning is becoming. None of them, including WizIQ, are perfect. Most software isn’t. If it was, we’d never need updates, future versions, or upgrades again. They also aren’t necessary in all settings. Coursera, Udemy, and WizIQ Courses all demonstrate that asynchronous video-based learning has huge potential and works very well for many educators and learners.

However, there is no substitute for live, face-to-face learning (and I mean face-to-face in both the virtual and physical senses). Asynchronous tutoring or office hours, for example, aren’t of much use. In-class discussion can be rich and passionate in ways that discussion boards simply can’t match. And being able to see a student’s facial expressions and visual nuances can be critical for instructors, especially when language barriers get in the way of clear written communication.

No, we haven’t achieved the holy grail of synchronous instruction in any of the Flash- or Java-based virtual classrooms. We can, though, achieve a variety of great learning experiences in reasonable facsimiles of a real classroom, complete with breakout rooms and embedded content. Right now (and, it looks, for the foreseeable future), other technologies like HTML5 simply don’t have what it takes to make this happen. That holy grail looks more like something totally bandwidth-friendly that works on any device, providing scalable access to synchronous learning on everything from basic feature phones to high-end tablets and workstations. There isn’t anything that can do this yet, particularly with the richness of mature virtual classrooms.

Mature, though, does not need to equal relic and technology that is evolving a bit more slowly than our needs hardly needs to be consigned to the rubbish bin. Rather, the tools as they exist right now give us a great preview of where synchronous learning is headed. Tools like WizIQ can and always will augment, supplement, replace, and/or complement asynchronous platforms and physical classroom settings, depending upon the needs of the instructor. And yes, they will evolve and improve and will, some day, move to emerging technologies like HTML5 or Adobe Air and new codebases that we haven’t yet dreamed up. Writing them off, however, in the midst of their evolution, with clearly established use cases and large user bases, is a mistake.

Flash will be here for a good while (perhaps for a long while, depending upon how Adobe ultimately leverages the platform and its many developers) and so will the virtual classrooms and synchronous learning it enables. Native Android and iOS apps will fill in holes in access to these environments, Air will push forward cross-platform compatibility, and new tools will emerge and mature as the technology becomes available, driving us closer at each step to that holy grail of anytime, anywhere learning.

Christopher Dawson

Chris is a full-time online teacher since then, focusing on teaching Business English to Adults. Rather than pushing the boundaries of technology, Chris seeks to simplify the online learning process by focusing on authentic human connections as a way to make online learning accessible for learners of all ages.

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